Monday, September 28, 2009

When "The Future" bites you in the ass

Valve's Steam
Today I found out that I can't purchase things on Steam while I'm not in my home country.

As I've mentioned a few times in the past, I'm currently working in the US for an extended period, and it suddenly struck me that there were things on Steam that would actually run and play quite well on this rickety old laptop I have with me.

I put in my billing address. It gets confused - I don't seem to be in that country (I hadn't noticed, myself). It wants me to enter my current country. Ok. It's not happy them either.

I need to verify my current country, apparently. I have verified it, that's definitely the country I'm in right now. It's just not the same one as for my billing address.

Oh well. I gave up and go back to playing some stuff on my DSi and PSP, the online stores for both of which work fine when you're abroad.

I guess there's just going to be no Loom and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis for me this weekend :(

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wikki wikki wi wild

Tom Nook's cold dead eyes. He just sees you as profit and loss.
Fuck you, Tom Nook.

So, having recently finished Professor Layton's Diabolical Box, I had an urge to buy another DS game, and start getting some serious time out of that DSi I bought and then never used.

Browsing the isles of the (curiously Atlantis themed) Fry's near where I'm staying, I came across Animal Crossing, which had two things going for it. First, I'd been meaning to pick up a copy for ages, since I'd only heard good things about it. And second, it was meant to contain hours and hours of gameplay, which is good if you live by yourself in a hotel room.

First impressions (and that's all I can give since I've actually only played a couple of hours on it) were disappointing.

I'd heard this was a great "casual" game, but to me the tutorial was pretty half-arsed and confusing. It started with a really long conversation where you get to enter all kind of details about what sort of village I wanted to live in. Once I actually got control found it didn't really tell me what to do in a lot of places.

I was soon introduced to the criminal Tom Nook. He seems to make his living from forcing mortgages upon new residents, and then enslaving them until they pay the money back.

That's right, the game begins with me having a mortgage, and having to run deliveries back and forward across the town in a minimal wage job. Anyone who says games are about living a fantasy has obviously not played Animal Crossing.

In general though the graphic style is nice, and I like the way the world rotates away behind you. Everything looks a bit ropey in movement, though. It feels like it's not entirely comfortable in its 3d shoes, and would be better suited to some more detailed sprites instead.

The whole thing also feels a little bit flakey in a way I wasn't expecting: Missing animation frames for example (movement using the stylus is analogue, but using the direction pad reveals it has no tweening on direction changes); The cursor pops around the place a lot of the time; the UI is a horrible clash of colours and thrown together icons, and feels half finsihed (possible even worse than the one in Viva Pinata), which is saying something.

Anyway, two hours in and I still haven't hit the "game" of the game. Which I guess shows that my second reason for buying it is probably true. But the opening has been so bad it's put me off a little bit.

I also probably doesn't help that my DSi is set to UK time when I am living eight hours behind that. I did notice the post-tutorial flow seems to fall on its arse if Tom's shop is shut due to the game thinking it's 3am.

Maybe more Animal Crossing-ery later...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton chasing after a small boy
One benefit I've found to living in the US (as I currently do) is that when companies decide to be all weird about release dates, and encourage people to pirate their games by releasing them months later in the UK, I can get them at the earlier date.

And so it came to be that I have already played through and finished Professor Layton's Diabolical Box, before it's hit the shelves of the UK (oh, and Ghostbusters on the Xbox as well).

Although of course, UK buyers will never see this on the shelves of Game, they'll get "Pandora's Box" instead. In a rare case for name changery, it turns out the US name makes more sense, since the box in question is the Elyssian Box, and is indeed quite diabolical by reputation. This Pandora lady doesn't figure in to it at all.

I do wonder if they're deliberately giving these things slightly suggestive names, though. I bet the Prof loves Pandora's Box (or maybe not, given that he spends all of his time in the company of a young boy. And at least this game makes some jokes around that, with some characters questioning the motives of such a pairing).

Anyway, on to the game. Like the first, it's a point and click adventure, only with bizarre logic puzzles shoehorned in, rather than inventory manipulation and conversation choices. It has far less reliance of repeated puzzles than the first (which I seem to remember had a massive number of sliding block, chess, and matchstick puzzles, of which this only has a few), which makes it feel much more fresh throughout.

It does retain most of the other downsides of the previous game, though. In particular I noticed a couple of puzzles with trick answers that could be very annoying if you didn't realise, and also some puzzles that could have had "trick" answers but thegame expects the straight ones. The combination of the two together in the same game makes for some haphzard guessing, as does the slightly ambiguous wording of some puzzles (they really should have the top screen puzzle explanations scrollable, so they can fit in more than a page of text).

There was also one puzzle that, even after seeing what the game thought the answer was, I couldn't work out for the life of me. It's the one with the twelve portraits where you have to remove all of the women (the Prof and Luke don't like having women around, I think). If you're able to give me a proper explanation of how it works me email address is just on the right, there.

The side collectibles are interesting: collecting camera parts and slotting them into the right places to fix the camera unlocks a "spot the difference" mode on some scenes, which in turn unlocks further puzzles; Hamster toys are used for creating a good exercise course for a fat hamster, who eventually points out hints for you; finally tea making is the weakest side activity (though thematically the strongest link to the good Prof) as it was never really that clear what sort of tea to brew for a character, and you couldn't just try again straight away like in most of the game.

Story-wise there was a lot of intrigue, but in the end just didn't hang together as well as the Bi-Curious Village. Once again they managed to come up with a way of explaining the puzzle-fascination of the people in the game, though this time their cleverness only covers two thirds of the population. Basically there's a small village somewhere north of London entirely populated by mentally ill Riddler types.

As far as characters go it was a mixed bag. A few returning characters, one of whom had a pretty funny introduction, though there were some that I had honestly forgotten the significance of (I guess that's what comes of releasing the games two or three years apart in the west). A few very memorable new characters, and a whole boat load of forgettables (including almost everyone in the game's main location). Though I did like the inclusion of a show girl who keeps inviting Luke in for an eyeful.

Design wise another thing that annoyed me quite a lot was the massive long ending sequence (which included credits, and then a post-credits scene) where I couldn't save. Since my DSi was showing red battery, I was quite nervous to try and get through this, but bizarrely you can't skip or fast forward the credits at all. Let me save during this shit, it's a portable system.

So overall - if you're a fan of the first, this is not quite as good, but still very enjoyable, and stands out against most of the stuff on the DS. And if you#ve never played the first, get that one instead.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another month bites the dust

Jade Raymond's lovely smile and deep brown eyes that you could get lost in
I've just realised I've got over a donzen draft articles that I haven't yet had the time to polish up and publish.

Honestly, I've been playing more games and writing about them than the month long inactivity of this blog would suggest. I will get around to posting thoughts on Ghostbusters, Shadow Complex, Monkey Island, and more very soon.

Look, here's a picture of Jade Raymond to keep the masses happy. She's just been promoted, if you didn't know, and according to a bunch of oddballs on self-proclaimed industry voice* The Chaos Engine, this is a terrible and/or very suspicious thing. A pretty girl who's good at her job, whoever heard of such a jape?

Anyway, that's enough baiting from me for the time being.

* Read "bunch of two dozen regulars who like to argue with each other, while eleven hundred lurkers hang around to see if their company gets a mention or some really juicy gossip gets accidentally spilled"